CES 2018 demonstrated that smart digital assistants are becoming key components of a variety of devices. As these artificial intelligence partners play a more important role in everyday life, all technology companies want an auxiliary application to call them their own. Amazon has Alexa, Apple has Siri, Google has Google Assistant, Microsoft has Cortana, and Samsung has Bixby.
Some of these AIs can help you do anything from searching for train schedules to controlling a smart home, but they can be difficult to track which one can do what. So we downloaded the five main applications to update them, identify their differences and decide which are the most intelligent and capable.
A note before starting the applications: because each of these assistants can answer thousands of commands, it is difficult to make an exhaustive study of their abilities. Instead, our goal is to give you a general flavor of what each one is like. Also keep in mind that we were talking to Alexa through an Amazon Echo speaker, so he could not display text and graphics along with his answers, as did the other attendees, which we tested on Android and iOS phones.
General Questions  We started the contest asking attendees basic questions about topics such as weather forecast, conversions between different measurements and curiosities.
All attendees could respond to a simple query on the weather and provide the forecast for the next few days. We notice some very small variations in the answers, probably because these applications depend on different sources. Alexa gave the most useful information in the shortest time, which makes sense, like a voice-only program, it has to be as short as possible.
Applications also met admirably with simple calculations and conversions between different units. They could even update us in time in different time zones, although we should take points from Siri and Cortana, which did not include the day or time in their spoken answers, something you need to know if a region is one day ahead or behind you.
We also tried a series of queries that you could include in a search engine: "How old is Barack Obama?", "Who built the Empire State Building?", "What is the population of France?" And "How big is California?" All attendees returned the correct answers, which means that each of them would be a good companion for trivia nights.
However, a more complex question tripped some of the attendees. We asked: "What is that movie with Robert de Niro and Al Pacino in it?" In response, Google Assistant and Bixby did well, producing a list of the five films that matched the question. Siri showed only three of the films, Cortana showed the Wikipedia page for Robert de Niro, and Alexa had no idea what was going on and tried to play a video.
We raised the bet again, asking a difficult question that a human would be able to investigate in a matter of minutes: "Is NASA planning a mission to Mars?" In response, Google and Bixby provided and read aloud the Wikipedia page about a human mission to Mars, Siri and Cortana told us NASA's Journey to Mars page but they did not read it, and Alexa began to read the input from Wikipedia for Rosetta spacecraft that flew over Mars in 2007.
Obviously, these digital assistants can return simple answers to simple search questions. However, they still have a long way to go when it comes to more complex queries. They will need better recognition of natural language and a better ability to examine information online, before they can match a human assistant.
A good digital assistant should be able to organize his life and search the web. This is how the contestants manage their calendars, contacts and emails.
All these assistants can work with the calendar applications of Google, Apple and Microsoft, with the exception of Cortana, which can not access the Apple calendars. When asked, all of these applications can tell you what your next calendar appointment is and provide a list of upcoming events in response to "What do I do next week?" Bixby and Siri do the best job of clearly displaying that information (but that's not Alexa's fault, since it does not have a screen in an Amazon Echo standard). In addition to reviewing existing events, you can use any wizard to create new ones. However, none of the applications understood what we were referring to when we asked when our next turn of free time or day off would occur.
In terms of contacts, all attendees can act simply with "call Joe Schmo" and "text Jane Doe" commands: although with the application Alexa on your phone, you must first enable an Echo so you can make calls . The functionality was largely similar across the board, with the call automatically starting on the speaker. However, Siri also avoids accidental markings by asking you to confirm that you really want to make the call.
Of course, there are times when you want to look up contact information without necessarily having to call them. So we try to find an address for one of our contacts. Congratulations to Siri and Bixby, who actually recognized a "Where do you live [name]?" I send. Cortana and the Google Assistant returned a web result for a famous person of the same name, while Alexa could not search for addresses.
Next, we ask all of these digital assistants to show our most recent emails. The Google Assistant, Bixby and Siri showed all the most recent messages on the screen, but Alexa and Cortana could not, hampered by not having a tight integration with an Android or iOS operating system. Cortana could, however, send emails to specific contacts, like Bixby, Siri and Google Assistant. Alexa is lost again here, but she expects Amazon to add this skill soon, perhaps through an update to the Alexa application that will help her work with existing email applications.
Alarms, timers, and reminders are basic tasks for digital assistants, and in this category, none of the contending applications will defraud you.
All attendees could "activate an alarm for 9 a.m. in the morning". They identified the day and time appropriately and even showed a confirmation on the screen. A follow-up command, "cancel the alarm for tomorrow", only worked in Bixby, Google Assistant and Alexa. Siri did not understand that phrasing, but she did respond to "cancel the alarm," perhaps a sign that her natural recognition of language is a little behind with respect to others. And we could not get Cortana to cancel the notification until we asked for a list of alarms and turned it off manually.
Regarding the reminders, the simple command "remember me buy milk" came up with some different answers. Alexa asked for a day and time for the reminder before saving it, the Google Assistant wanted a moment or a place where the reminder would be activated, and Bixby, Cortana and Siri saved the note in the default reminder app without asking for anything else. details If you include a specific date and time in your original voice command, all applications will save those relevant details and synchronize the reminder accordingly. They also understand recurring alerts such as "remember me at 2 p.m. every day to exercise," which allows you to set daily, weekly or monthly reminders.
In addition to the moments, you can also associate reminders with places. Cortana and Siri did well with a command "remind me to buy flowers when I arrive in London." Bixby and Google Assistant came in halfway, but they asked us to manually specify a location instead of simply accepting London from the voice command. Alexa could not link a reminder with a place, but that is a forgivable deficiency considering that she lives inside a speaker instead of a GPS phone.
Finally, to prevent the test phones from buzzing for the rest of the week, we asked the digital assistants to "delete all the reminders". Alexa and Bixby got engaged after asking for a general confirmation, Siri wanted us to confirm the deletion of each reminder individually, and Google Assistant and Cortana did not obey that instruction at all, we had to ask to see the reminders on the phone and then delete them manually .
No one wants life to be all work and nothing fun. That's why your digital assistant should be able to update it in the news, provide sports results and play music and movies.
In response to "What's the news?", Alexa reads newsletters of a variety of local, national messages. and international services. The other contenders, Cortana, Google Assistant, Bixby and Siri, show some of the main headlines of the day, as extracted from the internet, but only Cortana begins to read them out loud. However, we were testing the Google Assistant on a Pixel phone, and if you have it installed on a Google Home speaker, then you can also read the news.
Next, we tried to ask: "What was United's score?" (Referring to the English football team Manchester United by an abbreviation of its name). Alexa and the Google Assistant answered perfectly, and Alexa even told us when the next game would happen. Siri and Cortana fought until we specified "Manchester United" as the name of the team. By reaching the last place in this challenge, Bixby could only provide us with a list of web results.
We found that music was a true mix of ideas. It really depends on two factors: the assistant and the audio service. For example, we could perfectly call and play the Spotify playlists with Alexa, Google Assistant and Cortana. But when we tried other music applications such as Apple Music and Google Play Music, the attendees fell short. As for Siri, he could only control Apple Music, and Bixby was even more limited: he could only play audio files stored on the phone.
In the same way, movies varied from one application to another. Alexa can open applications and play specific movies when it says "show me an action movie" or "open Netflix", as long as you have connected it to a Fire TV on the same wireless network. Google Assistant, Siri and Bixby get those videos and any YouTube clips on the phone they're using. In addition, Siri can turn on everything you have stored in your iTunes library and the Google Assistant can send any video content to a nearby Chromecast. We have left Cortana, since he does not have the same video playback talents as his competitors, although he can show some YouTube videos through a Bing search.
Although this is the current state of entertainment in assistant apps, it could change very quickly, because Google, Samsung, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple are constantly creating new partnerships. For example, when it comes to showing news, attendees rely on receiving compatible content from news producers. Once those associations exist, companies can update their applications to add additional features.
This may seem like a lot of evidence, but these assistants also have many features that we have not explored, which is a testament to how capable they are becoming. Still, with our basic review, we managed to classify these digital friends in different ways.
In our opinion, the Google Assistant is the best to recognize natural language and answer follow-up questions. This is to be expected, since the application can take advantage of Google's great experience in search and artificial intelligence. It also has the advantage of tight integration with other Google services, such as Android, Gmail and Google Maps (the latter allows you to execute step-by-step instructions quickly).
Siri has a similar close integration with smartphones, but only of the iOS variety. However, its lack of support for non-Apple applications and services occasionally leaves this assistant inactive. However, if you prefer iPhones, there is no reason to change: Siri will work very well with Apple's Mail, Calendar, Contacts and Maps applications.
Where Alexa really stands out is in the number of third-party skills, from companies like Domino & # 39; s and Uber, and external applications, such as iCloud and Spotify, that you can connect to the service. It can also recognize natural language patterns well. On the downside, it's not available as a phone application, but Amazon is solving that disadvantage as we speak, so it will not count as a disadvantage for much longer.
Cortana, Microsoft's assistant on Android and iOS, seems the most disjointed of the digital assistants we tested. That said, it syncs perfectly with Windows 10, works on multiple devices and makes an effort to learn the news, sports scores and other interests you follow. Unfortunately, it does not have the same brightness as the Google Assistant, Siri or Alexa.
Finally, as the newest of these applications, Bixby is still a work in progress. At the moment, it can not offer as many features as its rivals do. However, it does control Samsung devices well (try commands like "close all recent applications") and it works well with the manufacturer's own mobile applications. Wait for some important improvements to occur.